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For the love of fun, not money

Published Oct. 12, 2005

Bill Macy got into show business because he wanted to have some fun in life.

"I was disenchanted with the real world that my dad introduced me to right after World War II," he said. That "real world" involved manufacturing children's pants.

"So I opted to do something like what I've been doing all my life," he said, "not to make money, but just for the joy of doing it."

He was a native New Yorker so he didn't have far to go to find his niche. The difficulty was fitting into it. He started out by attending classes in acting, courtesy of the GI bill.

"I spent 20 years doing every kind of theater in New York," he said, "and during that time I drove a taxi for 10 years. That's the way I made my living."

One of those shows in the New York days was Oh, Calcutta, a play that broke ground with its onstage nudity. He played in that for a year before leaving for a role in Awake and Sing.

"I left Calcutta to do Awake and Sing for less money in a smaller theater," he said, "but in New York an actor works not only to make a living but for the fun of the theater."

But it was when he was in a play called American Hurrah that he caught the attention of television producer Norman Lear. Soon he was playing Walter Findlay, the patient and long-suffering husband of Bea Arthur's Maude, and had caught the attention of the nation.

The show was so popular that the series ran on CBS for six years. It went off the air _ except for reruns _ in 1978.

In the meantime, Macy has appeared in films and on television, including several short-lived series. He also returned to stage work, and a role in the road show I Ought to Be in Pictures brought him to St. Petersburg in 1980.

But today, he says, he spends most of his time playing golf and bridge _ and waiting for the phone to ring.

However, that does not mean that he isn't throwing himself into golf and bridge with the same abandon as he once did the theater.

"I think success has to do with whatever the activity," he said. "It took me 20 years to become a good actor. And now I'm working on becoming good at golf and bridge. I put the same kind of energy into that as I once did into acting. You just don't do your thing unless you work at it."

Macy and his wife, actress Samantha Harper, whom he met when both were in Oh, Calcutta, play bridge together. "We take classes at a Beverly Hills adult education school," he said, "and we play with friends at their home and go to a bridge club."

As for golf, which he took up five years ago, he has an 18 handicap. "I just don't get up on the golf course and flail away. Sometimes I look at others and wonder why they haven't taken lessons. It's discouraging when you see someone trying to do something without going to ask for help.

"I shot an 88 yesterday," Macy said. "That's two strokes better than my handicap. I'm only 70, and by the time I'm 75 maybe I'll get down to 85. A golfer's dream is to shoot his age. I may have to wait until I'm 80 for that."

Macy says if the opportunity arose, he would like to go back to New York and do a Broadway show. "Occasionally in the past five years I've had calls from New York asking me to do off-Broadway shows. But the producers don't want to pay transportation, hotel or per diem, and offer to pay only $300 or $400 a week. They seem to be saying, "You've made a lot money in TV and films, so you subsidize the show.'


Macy recalls his days as a young actor in New York when he went to see The Crucible. "Walter Hampden was in that. He was 75 years old with a great shock of white hair." All of which, Macy said, proves his point: "You can be any age and do theater. You always have those kinds of dreams."